Last week the owner of the Mets Fred Wilpon invited me
to cut the ribbon at a new playground that was being built by the Mets
organization in Far Rockaway. After that event, Fred and I then went on a
nostalgia trip around the Rockaways. I thought you might be interested in some
of my observations.
First, everything seemed so small to me; the houses and streets particularly in Wave Crest. My house at 385 Briar remains an empty lot taken over by trees and weeds but, the good news there is no flooding in front of the house. Central Avenue was looking better than I had last seen it but, still looked shabby. It was very multicultural with a Yemenite grocery store. I took Fred to the boardwalk at 25th Street and it looked magnificent, totally rebuilt after hurricane Sandy. My mother’s favorite beach looked fabulous. In fact, the beach was much bigger, wider and nicer than the ones in the Hamptons .
As you know, Far Rockaway high school was closed in 2011, but I was amazed that it has undergone a resurrection. The building (which is currently being renovated) now houses four separate schools. One is called the Frederick Douglas Academy VI. This high school is a no-nonsense approach to school, demanding parent involvement, school uniforms and strict reliance to the rules. The second school is called the Knowledge and Power Preparatory academy VI modeled after the Air Force philosophy of leadership training. This school aims to be an IVY League Middle School Academy, with a long-range goal of preparing students for college. Students are called cadets and wear formal uniforms. The third school is called the Academy of Medical Technology which prepares students for careers in medicine. The fourth is the Queens High School for Information Research and Technology. The first three schools have been successful, raising the graduation rate from 25% to 75%. The last one still is struggling mainly because of a lack of focus and continued violence.
We then toured Bayswater which looked almost the same as when we were growing up. It now houses a number of orthodox Jews. We then drove from Beach 35th St. to the 60s which still looks like an area after a nuclear incident, empty lots taken over by nature. I still don’t get what's going on. In the mid-60s, the area is now called Arverne by the Sea with loads of good-looking co-ops and even surf shops as it seems to have become a haven for surfers. At 116th St, it still looks a little seedy but after that Bell Harbor and Neponset seems to have remained very prosperous since these neighborhoods did not deteriorate like the rest of the Rockaways.
All in all, it was an interesting and emotional trip. The place of our childhood is so gone but that happened a while ago. It was hard for me to explain to Fred what an idyllic place it was to grow up. Next to our crummy apartment it was all empty lots with rolling hills and sand dunes all the way down to the beach with only a huge orphanage at the top of the hill. I remember what a jarring moment it was when they built the Wavecrest Gardens and destroyed that beautiful vista. It probably was not as nice as I remember it, but it sure beats the current scene.
Overall the story of the Rockaways remains tragic. No one seemed to have a strategy as to what to do with this precious piece of New York real estate, that and a lack of planning. The warehousing of poor people and the addition of the subway turned the Rockaways from what should’ve been the Hamptons, into a struggling community. I think it’s moving in the right direction, but I doubt if it ever gets back to where it was when we were growing up, which was sort of an idyllic small-town / beach-town tucked away from the bustle of the big city. Anyway, these are some of my thoughts which I hope you enjoyed.
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